The Evolution of Combined Driving


What is Combined Driving?

Also known in the UK as driving trials or driven eventing, combined driving is a sport involving a horse or pony (or horses/ponies) and a carriage performing three phases in a similar way to ridden eventing.


Phase 1: The Dressage - similar to ridden dressage only with a carriage, the dressage tests are judged by between one and three judges depending on the level of competition. A series of movements are performed and then marked out of 10 according to the accuracy and quality of the movement

 Carriage Driving Dressage


Phase 2: The Marathon- this is a cross country phase covering around 15km of tracks, grassland and occasionally some road crossings. Within the course there are up to 6 obstacles to be negotiated in the quickest time possible

 Carriage Driving Marathon


Phase 3: The Cones - a course is set out of rubber cones specifically designed for carriage driving with a ball on top. The course must be driven accurately and within the time allowed without knocking the balls off the cones.

 Carriage Driving Cones


For a more in-depth explanation of Combined Driving see our blog article

About Combined Driving


A History of Combined Driving

The evolution of combined driving was greatly influenced by the Duke of Edinburgh who was an active participant between 1964 and 1986 and in fact president of the FEI during these years, and who's royal patronage did much to promote the sport. During his driving career he represented Great Britain in three European and six World Championships. He was amongst the critical minds who set out the rules and standards for combined driving during the 1960s until it became an FEI discipline in 1970.

The first competition following these guidelines was held in Lucerne, Switzerland in 1970. The first World Championships was held in 1972 at which time only horse fours were permitted. The singles and pairs had to wait years for their opportunity to compete at this level. The rulebook was refreshed in 1975 and has continued to evolve to the present day.


The Evolution of Combined Driving

The sport of combined driving has seen rapid evolutions in terms of equipment and techniques.


In the beginning it was common for authentic two wheeled vehicles to be used which were entirely unsuitable for the task in hand. This led to many a destruction of some beautiful carriages and some quite spectacular accidents. The challenge was more about finishing intact than the competition itself. Over a relatively short period of time the carriages have evolved using modern materials and functions to enable drivers to get the best out of their equipment in the safest way possible. It is much less common now thankfully, for a carriage malfunction to occur. Carriages used for combined driving are now almost always on four wheels with the exception perhaps of the very lowest levels. This gives much greater stability and manoeuvrability.


 Carriage Driving

Picture courtesy of the Bowman Family

 Carriage Driving Lowther

Picture courtesy of the Bowman Family

 Modern Carriage Driving

As the sport has moved on so too has the type of horses/ponies used. The sport began with the majority of equines being of native breeds known for their stamina and toughness. This was because the marathon was a real test consisting of 5 sections of tough terrain and the horses had to be fit and stay sound. Over the years, one of the most notable changes has been the reduction in sections and lengths of the marathons.

Consequently, the focus on desired breed characteristics has changed greatly now favouring the more extravagant moving horses. It's hard to put a finger on one reason behind this evolution but several factors can be attributed.

Firstly, it can be very difficult to find venues which can accommodate the distances covered in the old style 5 section marathons, more stewards are also required.

Secondly, it is widely believed that people have less time to dedicate to the fittening of their horses and competitor numbers were dropping off at higher levels for this reason.

Thirdly, it may be due to a following on from examples set in the continent where there is less availability to these great estates that we are so fortunate to have in the UK.

Lastly the sport has become very much more technically challenging in the dressage phase. This has made it very difficult to be competitive with breeds which are less naturally gifted in this phase. These type of horses are generally less able to cope with a tough lengthy marathon.

Whatever the reason the days of the 5-stage marathon are long gone almost certainly never to return.


Harness Evolution

Along with the carriages the harness has moved on a long way from the 60s. In early days traditional leather harness was used and full collars were commonplace. Whilst stunning, these harnesses would break on occasion and needed hours of work to keep it in top condition and prepare it for competition.

 Old Leather Driving harness

Picture courtesy of the Bowman Family

In modern times harness is very different and competitors express themselves in their vibrant team colours

 Modern driving harness




By far the biggest change to harness has come from the materials used. Leather harness is rarely seen in combined driving now and if it is seen at all it is usually reserved for the dressage phase at higher levels. The use of synthetic materials is far more commonplace and companies such as Zilco and Ideal who specialise in synthetic materials have become market leaders. Synthetic driving harness has many advantages over its leather counterpart but probably one of the biggest advantages is the ease of maintenance. For the most part synthetic harness requires a sponge over with warm soapy water and then it can just be hung to dry. If you want to give it a bit of an edge for dressage and cones there are products to give it that extra sparkle, such as Gold Label Polyshine


Leather harness requires much more in-depth maintenance which in the past more than likely involved many hours of preparation



Safety Features:

Another big change is the development of various quick release functions on the harness. We now have quick release tugs, often required because of the modern closed loop end style shafts so commonly seen now. It is also commonplace to see parrot clips strategically placed on the harness to allow the quick release of the breeching straps and crupper to saddle attachment. These are terrific little clips, so simple in design but they have a huge impact on safety.




The combo driving breastplates have seen the introduction of quick release systems to allow release at both the front and rear. There has also been a huge evolution in styles and designs of breastplates to improve comfort and functionality. Many of the designs allow greater shoulder movement and a broader bearing surface. Brollas have also become very popular, a design which tries to combine the benefits of the full collar with the modern breastplate


Ideal driving brolla

The sport of horse driving trials continues to evolve and respond to modern demands and it will continue to thrive into the future thanks to the passion of the people who love the sport.

Recently a class for VSE (very small equines) has been introduced to allow those with these remarkeable little equines to participate.

Small Pony Driving

 For more information about driving trials please visit British Carriage Driving.

You can also get involved in the sport of driving trials if you haven't got a horse or pony, the sport is a great way to meet people and build friendhsips. See our blog How to get Involved with Driving Trials when you don't have a Horse for details


We will leave you now with this terrific video by Cavewood, enjoy!

Driving Trials - A Time For Change from Cavewood Productions on Vimeo.



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